The Moscow School board Wednesday approved a back-to-school plan that would require students, faculty and staff to wear masks while indoors for at least the first three weeks of the school year. The first day of school in Moscow is Sept. 1.

In the plan, students will attend in-person classes five days a week with no option for online instruction.

The move comes on the heels of new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending universal indoor masking for K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. The shift in guidance is intended to help curb the spread of the more infectious delta variant of COVID-19 that has been linked to surges around the country.

Superintendent of Moscow schools Greg Bailey said one of the advantages to requiring masking while indoors for the first three weeks is it would allow the district to assess the effect of college students returning to the region on local infection rates.

“I wish I could say ‘next five months, this is what we’re doing,’ but we all know we’re not out of this COVID thing yet,” Bailey said. “When we started this, they were saying this could be two years or more and it’s showing those signs.”

While the CDC has designated Latah County a high-transmission area, Bailey said officials with Public Health — Idaho North Central District have said they have not seen evidence to suggest a greater risk in its five-county region. They also noted hospitalization rates remain manageable and said the delta variant has not been identified in north-central Idaho — though that does not mean it is not present.

However, board members said they would be more comfortable with a careful approach to the beginning of the year.

“If we go the first three weeks with everyone wearing masks while they’re indoors, then that gives us time not only to get more data but also to really encourage parents to get their children vaccinated as soon as they can,” board member Ken Faunce said.

“I still feel like we’d be better served requiring all students and staff to wear a mask, regardless of their status, until somebody can explain to me why the CDC thinks we’re in a high transmission rate and the local health district says we’re not,” said Jim Frenzel, another member of the board. “Until we get that question resolved, I would prefer to err on the side of caution.”

The board approved the recommendations for the start of the year but said it planned to revisit the measure in its Aug. 25 meeting.

Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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